Virtual Access to Cultural Heritage

Next month, CyArk founder Ben Kacyra will keynote the UNESCO conference entitled Remote Access to Cultural Heritage. We thought the topic of virtual access to cultural heritage sites would be an interesting contribution to LiDAR News. While this topic is still an emerging subject within the cultural heritage field, the 3D reality capture industry has been providing remote access to places for years. The 3D capture field has been able to bring the site, whether power plant, freeway overpass, or crime scene to the desktop. As technologies have continued to improve, we have been able to virtually transport engineers in the office into the field and empower those in the field with more accurate information. The cultural heritage community is now seeing the advantages of providing virtual access for cultural tourism, education, and sustainability.

Through the early adoption of LiDAR and other reality capture technologies, CyArk has been pioneering digital preservation of cultural heritage sites. CyArk defines the digital preservation of a site as the 3D capture, production of conservation, tourism and educational deliverables, and the public dissemination and archiving of the data. By providing open access to the data and deliverables through the CyArk website, CyArk provides virtual access to close to 50 heritage sites around the world. Through CyArk, universities and service providers, the cultural heritage community has utilized scanning technologies for documentation and conservation.The upcoming conference hosted by UNESCO is demonstrating a new interest in using the technology to provide something beyond documentation and conservation deliverables.

We have been thrilled at the indications of adopting a broader view on the use of 3D technologies for cultural heritage. This is a very positive step towards the digital preservation of our cultural heritage. We also think it points to several key technology developments that are making 3D more accessible and appealing.

Broad Access to 3D Data, Particularly Browser Based: Bringing 3D into the internet browser has been a huge step forward in promoting the technology. While this has been almost exclusively simple model based, rather than point clouds or complex meshes, it goes a long way in making the technology more accessible to the public. Additionally, the increased use of immersive environments created through high resolution and spherical imagery have become ubiquitous. These popularized technologies have encouraged models of heritage sites in the browser version of Google Earth as well as an increased number of virtual tours constructed through panoramic photography – two techniques we have adopted for the CyArk website at the urging of partners in the cultural heritage community.

Improved Point Cloud Visualization: Photo-real point clouds have become a standard for cultural heritage documentation. The data has always proved useful for onsite conservators and managers, but the recent improvements in visualization of point clouds have made the data a rich source for the promotion and interpretation of heritage sites. Improved rendering of photo-real point clouds also allows sophisticated visualizations of the site to occur without the time consuming and expensive process of modeling. In a field with limited funding, low cost, high quality visualizations are invaluable for promoting both virtual and physical site visitation. At CyArk we use photo-real point cloud animations to provide visitors virtual access to restricted areas or new perspectives on a particular site.

Mobile Content Delivery: Perhaps the most influential new technology for promoting 3D data for virtual cultural heritage access is the growing market of mobile devices and apps. An extremely mainstream, public oriented technology, mobile devices are a perfect way for heritage sites to provide virtual access or augment an on-site visitor experience. Providing an augmented virtual experience for sensitive areas of the site also promotes the sustainability of potentially fragile resources. CyArks first mobile app of Fort Laramie was launched in the Apple App Store last month thanks to the collaboration of the National Park Service. The park uses the app to provide those on-site virtual access to restricted areas and promotes the free download of the app for those who may never visit but want to learn about the site.

This is an exciting time for all those interested in digital heritage preservation and we look forward to seeing the field continue to grow.

About the Author

Elizabeth Lee

Elizabeth Lee... Currently Director of Projects and Development, CyArk. Originally trained as an archaeologist, Elizabeth Lee has managed projects for CyArk all over the world. A California based non-profit, CyArk has digitally preserved over 50 important heritage sites including Pompeii, Tikal, Ancient Thebes, Chichen Itza, and Babylon. Ms. Lee currently directs all aspects of digital preservation project work and development. She is also responsible for strategic development for the CyArk 500, helping organize themes within the 500 and expeditions to both Mexico and Scotland. Prior to joining CyArk, Ms. Lee founded the UC Berkeley/CyArk Visualization Lab and served as instructor for the UC Berkeley/CyArk Internship Program. Ms. Lee is a regular presenter at 3D digital documentation conferences around the world and in addition to presenting scholarly papers to the cultural heritage community. She has also been published in The American Surveyor, the Leica Reporter and Professional Surveyor Magazine. She holds a degree in Anthropology with honors from the University of California at Berkeley.
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